A red flower detaches itself from the shrubbery, grows wings, and lazily flits away.
It’s a magical moment, and not much less so when I realise what I’m actually looking at – a small, blood-red dragonfly, one of many camouflaged among the profusion of blossoms.
More dragonflies share the sky with tiny swallow-like birds that soar, float and dive at eye-level as I lie in a bath of frangipanis and rose petals at the rooftop spa. It’s as if their movements have been choreographed in time with the calming piano and flute music that plays in the background.
These magic moments are in keeping with Ayana’s name, which comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘place of refuge’. According to the resort’s founder and owner Rudy Suliawan, Ayana also means a peaceful and harmonious place with lots of animals and an abundance of vegetation. Rimba, the name of the neighbouring sister-resort, which shares Ayana’s facilities, is the Indonesian word for ‘forest’.
November 2016 marked Ayana’s 20th birthday, and I was lucky enough to be there to share in the celebrations. As I heard the story of how the resort came to be built, I was impressed by the visionary nature of the enterprise. Drawn by the incomparable sunsets and the refreshing sea breeze, Suliawan and his team took an area of wilderness without roads, bridges, electricity or water supply, and turned it into a pleasure palace with amenities to satisfy the most sophisticated traveller, yet without sacrificing the feeling of a natural paradise.
While Ayana and Rimba function as two parts of an integrated resort, there are significant differences in atmosphere between the two locations. Ayana stands proudly on its cliff top, with uninterrupted views over the Indian Ocean. The rooms have traditional Balinese accents of carved wood. Here you’ll also find the Ayana Villas, leafy one-, two- or three-bedroom retreats, each with a private plunge pool. In contrast, Rimba nestles retiringly into the forest, and its design is more casual, with great use made of repurposed maritime timbers and quirky modern artworks.
One thing that was clear from the 20th birthday celebrations was that the Ayana brand continues to expand and evolve. December’s unveiling of 120 new rooms at Rimba made the Ayana-Rimba complex the largest resort in Bali. Yet the whole place has been so cleverly designed that its size is never oppressive. Instead, you find there are always new corners and angles to discover; little gardens, bridges and terraces, which break up the space and remove any sense of sameness.
Take the swimming pools. There are 11 of them (not counting the private villa pools), and each has a different appeal. There’s the opulent main pool with its imposing dragon statues, the secluded and luxuriantly planted two-tier river pool, the lower pool with its waterfall, and the sand-fringed ocean pool. Because of the resort’s proximity to and height above the Indian Ocean, the architects have been able to make exceptional use of the infinity concept, with a number of swimming pools visually merging into the turquoise expanse of ocean.
Completely seduced by these gorgeous pools, I never make it to the guests-only Kubu Beach. As a spoilt Sydney-sider, I figure that, while I can always get to a world-class beach, I can’t always swim in a luxury pool. But if – when – I return to Ayana, I’ll definitely want to experience the new 1960s-styled beach club scheduled to open in late March. Retro-themed club facilities on a private beach by the Indian Ocean? You couldn’t keep me away.
One thing I did get to experience this time was the aquatonic pool at Ayana’s Thermes Marins Spa. Over two hours, I made my way around its 60 water jets, which provide hydromassage of varying degrees of intensity. The strongest jets are pretty brutal, but I discovered it was surprisingly enjoyable being pushed and pummelled so strenuously by an element rather than a person. This treatment is great for circulation and lymphatic drainage, and it’s a lot of fun doing the circuit with friends. (The expressions on their faces will warn you when the really strong jets are coming up!)
A more serene spa option would be a session at Ayana’s premier wellness facility, Spa on the Rocks. These over-water villas, built in traditional Balinese style, enable guests to enjoy exquisite spa services in a fully natural setting, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. The premium item on the menu is the Diamond Miracle body and face treatment, described by Ayana staff as ‘two-and-a-half hours of float-away bliss’.
Massage treatment at Spa on the Rocks
And what about the famous sunsets that led to the resort being sited here in the first place? The best place to see them is from the ocean-edge Rock Bar, a Bali icon and, according to CNN, one of the world’s Top 30 hotel bars. Seats on the VIP Round Deck provide the most perfect views and are only available to Ayana Villa guests. Enjoy the DJ’s music selection (definitely a cut or two above the usual hotel bar music), cool cocktails and the view of a lifetime.
Ayana is an Indonesian-owned resort, and I think that shows in the sense of pride and belonging radiated by the people who work there. There are also some unusual benefits in having a genuine local connection. Ayana’s Director of Public Relations, Lindsay Kinniburgh, casually mentions that her team often makes use of ‘rain-stoppers’ to ensure that weddings and other special occasions aren’t spoiled by the weather. I wonder if rain-stoppers are some sort of physical barrier or perhaps an advanced electromagnetic technology. No, it turns out that rain-stoppers are local Balinese people gifted in traditional knowledge of natural energy fields, who have the ability to stop rain falling for designated periods of time. Lindsay shrugs away my Western scepticism. “It always works”, she says, “but you need to know the right people to call.”
More magic. After a couple of days at Ayana, I believe her.